Got a review on “Chunneling Through Forty” from an older gentleman, and I’m impressed!
He laments the protagonist’s lack of confidence and self-esteem. Coming from a man who probably worked when women were treated as they are on Mad Men, he’s to be congratulated. Back then, women couldn’t advance easily in the corporate world; discrimination against them was as subtle as being overlooked for a promotion or as blatant as being told to quit when they got pregnant. For him to turn around and slap me silly for writing about a woman who employs a snarky internal monologue and a lack of conviction about her standing in the modern world is commendable. It sounds like he respects a well-educated, articulate woman willing to stand up for her core beliefs.
I would tell him, though, that many successful women who seem to have it together harbor a dizzying array of insecurities.
We live in a society where female Hollywood careers -- and skin -- dry up around 40, where George Clooney and his date of the month are esteemed, but Demi Moore and Madonna are cougarized and disparaged. The big news from the Oscars? JLo’s areola and Angie’s right leg. No discussion of their success on multiple levels or how everything they touch turns to gold. Did the media comment on the girth of Harvey Weinstein, or his wrinkled face? Nope. And from the looks of it, he hasn’t subjected himself to Botox, weekly skin treatments, or lipo, just to stay relevant.
Hollywood may be a bad example. Let’s go corporate.
I know successful women in the business world. In every career conversation we have, gender rears its head. Talk about corporate goals and they mention a lack of women at the next level, how they need to learn to play golf, and how they feel excluded from the strip clubs that men still attend while on business meetings.
Let’s reverse the stripper scene. If women ruled the corporate roost, would men feel comfortable sucking down appletinis while a chiseled Chippendale thrust his member in their faces? How about the tipping portion of the evening, Gentlemen? You cool with your hand that close to Chippie’s moneymaker? More importantly, might your internal monologue reflect on your own package and make a self-disparaging comment, or a snarky one that accuses Chippie of “improper use of sock” --because these are the types of comments my protagonist makes.
Neurologically, women’s brains have a higher capacity for empathy, probably due to maternal instincts. We sense and care about what others think of us. Why wouldn’t this trait extend from the baby room to the board room? And why else would one of the most successful, respected women of all time -- Oprah --have turned Spanx into a multimillion dollar product?
My book focuses on a turning point in age. There are women who handle it with grace and those who stumble through it with multiple Chardonnays. My protagonist must have looked at the Age Preferences on Match.com. Women prefer men 5 years younger to 20 years older; men prefer women 20 years younger to one year younger. Oh joy for the 40+ women out there.
So yes, my female character, a respectable stay-at-home mom, harbors insecurities. She’s just entered her -- cue the dark music -- forties, and she’s both surprised and pleased that a stranger finds her sexually attractive. Does she have trouble telling him to stop? Of course. Does she suffer guilt for it? Undoubtedly. Is this an unusual internal conflict for a woman? Absolutely not.
While lots of women would handle the situation better than my protagonist, many would not. I explored one point of view, and while I wish that all women believed in themselves the way many men inexplicably do, the truth is that women like my character do exist.
We need more men like my critic – men who are horrified to know that women feel constantly judged, men who think that women should express their sincerest thoughts and to hell with the consequences. To those men, thank you. To all men, compliment a woman today on her intellect, her drive, or her self-confidence. And don’t slap her on the ass while you do it.